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Spence to Lead Anti-Cheating Taskforce

Tom Gardner on the University’s cheating crackdown.

Michael Spence dressed as a ghostbuster. Michael spence the cheatbuster.

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Dr Michael Spence has told the University Senate that he would institute a taskforce on academic misconduct.

The decision comes in the wake of the Sydney Morning Herald reporting in November last year that up to a thousand university students had contracted Sydney-based company MyMaster to pen essays and sit online tests for them. Although scores of University of Sydney students were implicated in the scandal, the University has only managed to identify only five of them.

The main reason other students were not identified is because Turnitin was not consistently used across the University, even though Dr Spence told the federal tertiary education regulator, TEQSA, that its use was widespread.

Other NSW universities affected, including the University of Newcastle, Macquarie University, and the University of New South Wales, have relied on Turnitin to successfully identify which of their students used MyMaster to plagiarise.

The MyMaster scandal spans sixteen Australian higher learning institutions, but the University of Sydney is one of the worst affected. The Herald reported that the 61 ghostwritten assignments requested by University of Sydney students cost between $90 and $800.

Although several faculties are represented, over 70% of the requests were for subjects offered by the Business School. Incredibly, one student reportedly procured MyMaster to author his assignment for a Writing Hub unit of study (WRIT1000, WRIT1001 or WRIT2002).

Dr Spence, who intends to chair the university-wide taskforce himself, issued a statement yesterday describing academic misconduct as a problem with which the entire education sector must contend.

“Our assessment processes are designed to minimise the opportunity for misconduct, but we know that the advent of new technologies has led to increasingly innovative methods for students to use, and sadly a small number continue to try and use them instead of applying such innovation to their studies,” he said.

“The taskforce will consider new methods for detecting plagiarism and other misconduct, changing assessment methods to minimise opportunities for students to engage in conduct and ways to build the University’s culture by making students partners and champions of academic values and the fostering of academic integrity.”


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